Wilson Ramos Could Be a Nice Value for the Rays
The 29-year-old catcher played in a career-high 131 games, and he was an incredible offensive force throughout the season. He ended with a slash line of .307/.354/.496, racking up 22 home runs and a 124 wRC+ -- all of which were new personal bests.
He attributed his startling career uptick to offseason Lasik eye surgery, which is important because it is something that does not go away. However, his season ended abruptly and frustratingly when he tore his right ACL late in the year, his second significant knee injury since 2012.
As a free agent this offseason, Ramos saw his market dwindle after the injury, but signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays worth $12.5 million, and it's a contract filled with incentives for him upon coming back from his second knee injury.
While he is not expected to be ready until April or May, the Rays signing Ramos to a very affordable two-year deal could prove to be one of the offseason's better signings if his knee holds up. Part of his value is due to his post-Lasik performance last season, but a lot of it comes from the landscape of catchers in the MLB and the dearth of offense from the position.
Ramos in 2016
Ramos' 2016 performance stands out on its own, but it is even more impressive when compared to the league's best behind the plate.
This table is interesting for two reasons. For one, Ramos is at the top, or near the top, in plenty of offensive categories -- and according to wRC+, he was the best offensive catcher last year.
The second -- and potentially more important -- part is that it includes all of the catchers who posted an above-average wRC+ (average is 100). So, there were only five, and the next three were Russell Martin (99 wRC+), Stephen Vogt (93 wRC+) and Salvador Perez (88 wRC+).
Simply put, the offense coming from the catcher's spot in the lineup was largely below-average. The Nationals, Brewers (and Rangers), Giants, Cardinals, and Marlins were lucky -- those five got above-average production, while the rest of the league suffered. The total wRC+ for all catchers in 2016 was 87, much lower than the above group.
Looking Back Further
The lack of offense behind the plate was not a one-off thing in 2016, it has been happening for a few years now. Let's look back at 2015.
Here are the only members of the 100 wRC+ or higher club from the catcher position in 2015, which once again, includes just five players. It is important to note that New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud had a 130 wRC+ in 2015, but he only played in 67 games due to injury and therefore did not have enough at-bats to qualify. Even adding d'Arnaud into this group, the overall offense at the catcher position was poor.
Offense behind the plate was even worse in 2015 than it was in 2016, with the total wRC+ clocking in at 85.
Simply put, finding offense behind the plate is incredibly hard.
Since the position is so physically taxing, most players with real offensive potential are moved elsewhere in an effort to avoid injury (Neil Walker, and Bryce Harper were both drafted as catchers, and were quickly converted to other positions, while Pablo Sandoval moved a year into his minor league career), and the ones who stay behind the dish are there for defense.
Unless a team is lucky enough to run into a Posey, Lucroy, Molina, or someone of the like, finding offense from the position is difficult.
This is why the Ramos signing was an intelligent one by the Rays. They took a chance on him and his knee, but for a very cheap price based off recent production. If he's healthy and able to catch at least some of the time, it will give them an advantage.
His injury is the obvious caveat here -- he tore his right ACL for the second time in four years, and that's a lot of serious knee surgery and rehab to deal with in a relatively short period of time. He did come back strong after his first procedure, though.
In the 25 games he played in 2012, he hit .265/.354/.398 with a 103 wRC+ and followed that up with a better 2013 (.272/.307/.470, with a 113 wRC+). A second ACL surgery is never a good thing, but he at least knows what it takes to recover and rehab, along with getting himself back into game shape in order to be productive.
The Rays can benefit from not only the Ramos from last year, but also the 2012-13 version.
Tampa Bay catchers hit just .203/.267/.344 in 2016, including a 7.5% walk rate, a 30.3% strikeout rate and an abysmal 65 wRC+. Even if Ramos has to split this time between catcher and designated hitter, or he regresses a bit, he is almost assured to be an upgrade over what the team has currently had.
For a team with such little production behind the plate and little catching depth coming through their system, taking a gamble on Ramos was a no-brainer.